Why are EV drivers always ignored when considering charging infrastructure?

I have just driven home 20 miles and I am still feeling very frustrated, disappointed and insulted in equal measures. I make no apology for leaving the meeting the way I did.

Firstly, clearly, I was there under a false impression that the people involved were interested in what EV drivers actually want and need. Instead, I find that a number of the participants with their own agendas and one in particular, xxxxxxxxxxxx, quite frankly has absolutely no idea what is important. For him to suggest that rapid charging is for the rich was not only insulting to me and every EV owner but it shows that he simply should not be involved in any future EV planning discussions.

I am at a complete loss why we were even talking about slow charging. The budgets are very tight and so I thought we were there to see what we can do in the wake of the council pulling funding… not to discuss the merits of slow charging and RFID systems.

What is needed is clear and simple… 2 or 3 fast/rapid charge DC systems with AC 3-phase, strategically located to give good access to them from all parts of the county. Our 1 hour discussion regarding the merits of RFID tag systems and slow charging was a complete and utter waste of our time and effort.

If you want to do as the Plugged in Places schemes have done and install an infrastructure that looks good on paper but does nothing to help EV drivers then carry on discussing those issues, install your “mix” of fast and slow charging and see just how much of a waste of money it is. If you want to install something that will help EV drivers and help promote EVs in general then you need to stop this pussy-footing around and focus on what is important to the driver… ask any EV driver what they need and they will all say almost without exception… fast charging and that means combined DC/AC 3-phase units. Forget RFID tags and membership schemes. EV drivers don’t want them nor are they necessary.

If anyone is genuinely interested in what EV drivers want and need then by all means get in touch but if this is the example of what we can expect from council involvement in EV charging infrastructure then I do not want to be involved.

Paul Churchley

PS xxxxxxxxxxx, if you want to apologise for your insulting remark then don’t bother. Your priorities are clearly not on the side of EV drivers and your remark displays a considerable level of ignorance and prejudice.

I sent the above email to the attendees of a meeting I had today with representatives from Cornwall Council and other interested parties to discuss what, if anything, could be salvaged from the decision of Cornwall Council to withdraw funding of a county-wide EV charging network.

I was in two minds whether to attend from the start. I am not known for my diplomacy and although I try to remain calm when confronted with others ignoring the obvious I felt that for me to attend such a meeting would be temping fate a little too much. However, I knew most of the attendees and so I had assumed that we all had the same objective. How wrong could I be.

The meeting started out with some concern right from the start. I thought we were there to discuss what we could do, as a community, to help Cornwall develop our own EV charging network for the benefit of Cornwall AND EV drivers. It seems that I must have got the wrong end of the stick though because there was almost no focus at all on the EV driver! The discussions focused around a number of topics: the merits of RFID tags and membership schemes, justification for slow charging infrastructure, the disadvantages of Pay-As-You-Go charging methods, the benefits of using the existing council car park charging infrastructure, why slow “top-up” charging was important, why DC fast charging was not the whole story and a whole lot more.

We were discussing all this stuff for about an hour and it became increasing clear that as an experienced EV driver my voice, and that of the other EV driver present, was not carrying much weight at all. There seemed a strong reluctance from one particular council representive to consider anything other than a slow and fast/rapid charging mix and an RFID based membership scheme. I was getting more and more frustrated as it was more and more obvious that my opinions were not only at serious odds with the meeting but it was clear that my opinions as an EV driver, and my experience talking to other EV drivers, was not being listened to.

In the end I simply asked the meeting “Why are you making this so complicated?”.

Of course, the truth is that if we had proper funding, and we were designing a comprehensive charging infrastructure, there would be a lot of issues to discuss and to research. The reality of the situation is that Cornwall Council have pulled the funding for that comprehensive network and as a community we were going to have to do something ourselves. In these circumstances I would have thought that the voice that would carry the most weight would be the end user of the system… the EV driver! It seems not. The biggest voice was the man from Cornwall Council.

The questions I was expecting to be asked was “What do EV drivers need?”. “What can we do to provide it?”.

There seemed to be very little, if any, desire to either ask those question and a particular reluctance to hear the answers. It seemed like people had their own agendas and they were there to push those agendas regardless of any opposing views. I did my best to put forward the generally accepted view of the EV drivers I know. Generally speaking, from the discussions I have had or seen on the many forums online and on Twitter and Facebook I feel I have a pretty good idea of what people need. They need fast chargers and as many as we can get. Slow charge stations are great in the right place but that is generally where cars are normally parked for at least 3-4 hours. This kind of charge station is easy and cheap for businesses to install themselves and so public or community funding is not required. What is more expensive to install and of most benefit to the EV community as a whole are fast/rapid chargers.

These are upwards of £10,000 to install and yet they benefit everyone. People without off-street parking can use them for everyday charging, people on holiday can use them to visit the area and tour easily, locals can use them to get out of the area to visit other parts of the country. All in all, fast/rapid chargers are what is needed right now to encourage and grow EV use.

I say again, I am not against slow charging. Slow chargers are great in hotels, B&Bs, attractions, even shopping centres, and of course at home and work. They mean that a reasonable charge can be gained but only by staying a reasonably extended time. They are only really of benefit to extend a journey by a relatively small distance per hour of charging and so cannot really be of much benefit for long distance travel. To be honest, short distance travel is mostly covered by charging at home or work anyway. Don’t misunderstand me though… I believe that ultimately both slow and fast/rapid charging will be of importance in the future. However, the slow charging is cheap and easy to install and is already being supported via charities such as Zero Carbon World and by businesses taking the initiative themselves and funding installation themselves.

Where financial help is needed though is installing fast/rapid chargers.

The irony is that it takes so few fast/rapid chargers to cover Cornwall. 3 should be sufficient in the early stages. With 3 DC fast chargers with 3-phase AC the entire county would be easily accessable for visitors and residents alike. JUST 3! Why were we even discussing slow charging stations at all?

Then there is the issue of RFID cards and membership schemes. The council man was very supportive of them. For him it was an easier, quicker and cheaper way to implement a network removing the responsibility of installation, operation and maintenence away from themselves. The fact that EV drivers don’t want them seemed to fall on deaf, very deaf, ears. There was some support from others for RFID card schemes too on the basis that with the development of a central white list RFID tags from any scheme could then be used on any other. To be honest, in principle that might be true but the reality is radically different. Imagine… you are a member of your local membership scheme and you suddenly have a need to visit another part of the country that you didn’t expect to visit… it is late on a Saturday night and yo must leave next day. Any suggestion that you will get your RFID tag authorised and paid for by the next day is laughable! We don’t have membership schemes for petrol… we don’t want it nor need them for EVs.

Making all future EV charging infrastructure to be free or where payment is necessary, to a PAYG payment model, using SMS and charge cards, would be easy. It suits everyone. The charge station operator gets their cash quickly and easily, card processing charges are low, it uses a tried and trusted payment method that people are familiar with, and most of all, it allows EV drivers to get the charging when they need it without the complication of having to pre-register with a scheme and make payments for charging they may never use.

So, with this as the backdrop, the final straw came when I asked why everyone was making it so  difficult… why were we even talking about slow charging?

The council man then said something that in all honesty was unbelievable… he said that we weren’t just considering a few fast chargers for a bunch of rich individuals! RICH Individuals! The inference being that it is the rich that benefit most from fast charging! Unbelievable!

Sorry, but at this point I lost the plot and marched out and, rather embarrasingly, slamming the door behind me. In that act I did no one any favours but to my credit… I bit my lip and said nothing more. I wish I were a political animal and could just take this kind of attack on the chin and then go on to argue why he is so mistaken but that is just not me. I had spent an hour listening to why the council supported RFID tags and membership schemes, why PAYG won’t work and why we should focus as much on slow charging as fast and trying to argue in a rational and controlled way against all that and then for him to suggest that fast charging most benefits the rich… it was just too much for me to handle.

So where are we in Cornwall? To be honest I don’t know. Clearly, most people at the meeting were not there to discuss the benefits of a charging infrastructure to the EV driver and until that becomes the primary focus I am not going to be involved any further. I do accept that any solutions to charging infrastructure must be in keeping with the interests of everyone concerned and I am not nieve enough to think that the driver should be the only consideration… but he/she should first and foremost be the primary concern if we are to create a charging network that benefits anyone at all in the long term. The Plugged in Places projects were designed mostly be people that have never owners an EV and so we have ended up with a network in those locations to suit the operators, the post manufacturers, the sponsors of posts, the government etc… very little of it is done with the EV driver in mind. So it seems that if Cornwall council get their way it will be the same here.

I have a simple message to Cornwall Council and to everyone involved in installing EV charging infrastructure:

1) Please, no RFID tags or membership schemes. Simple, cheap and easy to install charge stations are readily available to businesses now that want to have a proper EV charge station. Speak to the charity Zero Carbon World and they can not only advise you on your options but also may be able to supply the hardware to you for free.

Public funds should not go towards slow charging infrastructure until the fast charge infrastructure is in place. Then, and only then, should we even be talking about public slow charging. By that time it may be that much of the slow infrastructure has already been installed by private enterprise.

Slow charging will mostly be done at home, at work and where businesses install charge stations to the benefit of the business. The slow charge network will grow naturally without the need for public or community help.

The issue of how to provide regular overnight charging for those without off-street parking is not one that can be easily solved and is a more long-term problem.

2) Focus entirely on DC fast chargers with 3-phase AC. This will cover all bases for the future and include all models including existing and new models (that have Mennekes single or 3-phase charging).

Nissan are giving away hundreds of DC fast chargers free and the UK is destined to get 60+. That 60 odd would be enough to provide a viable fast charge network nationwide if their installation was properly planned. We do not need thousands of fast chargers. As I have said, 3 would adequately cover Cornwall and 4-5 Devon. More would be nice but they can come later.

3) On fast chargers they must be available 24/7/365 and implement a SMS or credit card payment scheme so anyone can use the charger at any time without the need to pre-register or pay for membership to schemes they may never use. RFID tags and central whitelists just won’t work and people will not sign up to them when PAYG chargers are available.

Slow charge stations should be free. The cost to the sposoring business would normally be insignificant compared to the financial benefit the business gains from the custom of the EV owner. They are normally fully financially justifiable on their own given their low cost to install and run. I can see little need to charge a fee to slow charge and slow charging should be built into the sponsoring business’s business plan.

Can’t see me being invited to the next meeting – can you? 🙂

3 thoughts on “Why are EV drivers always ignored when considering charging infrastructure?”

  1. Update:

    Jeremy Stone was at the meeting today and has responded on http://www.leaftalk.co.uk. As I have been banned from Leaf Talk I am unable to respond so I will put my reply here…

    The meeting was very much Cornwall Council focussed that is true but that is even more damning IMO. It seems to me that Cornwall Council, and most of the others present as far as I could tell, seemed to take the view that we should be looking for different ways of funding the the original plan, or something like it. My point is this: that original plan is fundamentally flawed. We should be considering what is most needed… not what the council THINKS it wants. The two are radically different. The first will promote EVs and help EV drivers. The second will bolster council employees CVs and do nothing for the EV community or the take up of EVs.

    The council seems to have a very blinkered view of what it is prepared to consider funding. It seems totally disinterested in the actual needs of EV drivers and instead it focusses on what it THINKS we need. It also seems to be hell-bent on spending on something because it is apparently cheaper (Chargemaster seems favourite) instead of looking at what is most cost effective in the long term.

    I heard absolutely nothing today that gives me any confidence at all that the council was at all interested in changing the plan… just how they fund it.

    I hope it turns out that I am wrong. We'll see.

  2. I really don't know. perhaps it is just them following the Plugged in Places example.

    What I do know is that they see it as a cheaper way for the council to get some kind of charging infrastructure installed… even if it isn't what EV drivers need!!!

    To my mind, we would be better off with nothing than with the wrong kind of infrastructure. Just my opinion. 🙂

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